Roots and Wings

by Pastor Heath Howe

       "Two great things you can give your children: one is roots. The other is wings."

In a sermon last month, Father Parkin offered us the wonderful quote above by Hodding Carter II. The more I have marinated in this thought the past few weeks the more true I have found it to be. We want our children to be grounded and feel secure so that they can grow and stretch in all that life has to offer them. With strong roots they are able to stand firm and hold fast to what is true for them and who they are. We also want them to live fully and completely. We want them to take flight and soar as they grow. We want them to have roots and wings.

This year in our children and youth formation programs we have implemented new curricula that provide both roots and wings for our children to grow spiritually. The two most obvious examples are with our youngest children, Junior Kindergarten through third grade, and our middle school children, seventh and eighth grade.

With our younger children we are tending their roots by focusing on Bible stories and the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, both solid, rich, internationally known programs, are the curricula we are blending to provide us with exactly what we need to do this work. The most powerful piece of these programs is that they begin with the theological assumption that our children have a relationship with God that begins in the womb. The teachers are the facilitators of a sacred space where the Holy Spirit is the Teacher. The educational method is Montessori-based in style. The children work with manipulatives that correspond to sacred scripture stories or the sacraments which the teachers present weekly.

In addition to chapel time, our children are in children's choir with Bill Gordon. We believe that this blend of teaching and singing nourishes the spiritual roots of our children in a very balanced way. They have time for instruction and contemplation and a time to express their love for God with song. The impact these changes have made on our children is significant. They are beginning not only to know about God but to know God. They are learning how to listen to and talk/sing to God on their own. Rich, rich root work is happening for them.

Wings are beginning to expand with our 7th and 8th graders. We have begun using an Episcopal-based program, Journey to Adulthood. The program is divided into three two-year sections. The first two years, aimed at our 7th and 8th graders, are named Rite 13. During this time we work with the youth as they begin to move out of childhood and into adulthood within their faith and the church. To do this the program focuses on five different areas: spirituality, society, sexuality, self, and prayer. Through conversation, scripture study, outreach efforts, and prayer the Rite 13 class begins the work of helping the young people put their faith into words and action. Early this month we will mark this shift in their faith journey with a ritual during the 9:00am service. We hope many from the Holy Comforter Family will be there to support them at this time.

This is also the year when these same youth participate in Confirmation. Father Parkin and Bill Haljun are using Confirm Not Conform as the curriculum for that class. Much like the Rite 13 curriculum, Confirm Not Conform encourages the youth to discern and eventually name what they believe. They look at the topics like our Creed and church history to see where we have come from, understand what we believe, and begin the journey of naming and claiming it as their own. We will celebrate their Confirmation on May 19th, the Day of Pentecost. Clearly, for our 7th and 8th graders, wings are beginning to stretch and a little bit of flying is starting to take place.

In the end, none of this will really hold for our children if we are not tending roots and stretching wings at home. If we depend solely on Sunday morning or a weeknight class to help our children root down in their faith and stretch out their spiritual wings we limit their growth experience. What we do at home is central to faith formation. Think of it this way: when we taught our children to read we did not take them to the library once a week. We practiced at home. We read books to them. We listened to them read back. When they were ready for chapter books and richer material we provided it. Our faith is the same. Faith that sustains is caught, not simply taught. To really help your child's faith-based roots take hold or their spiritual wings expand it really helps if they engage in the four keys that enrich one's faith: caring conversation, family rituals and traditions, family prayer, and family service. All four of these we do as a group on Sunday mornings. Do them at home. If you do, the roots will strengthen and the wings stretch long and far. Your children and grandchildren will have the tools they need to live as Christian adults and lovers of Christ.

For ideas and activity to practice the four keys at home please go to www.vibrantfaithathome.org.